Parenting Styles: The Basics Explained

It seems like every year there is a new trend in parenting. There are books and experts to go with every style. But what does it all mean? Parenting styles can actually be broken down into four broad categories. These categories encompass many other specific trends and styles. Let’s discuss them to understand the basics.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, research shows there is a “best” style.

Terminology Decoded

Before we dive into specifics, let’s make sure we’re speaking the same language. If you’ve done some research, you’ve likely read about the three parenting styles identified by psychologist Diana Baumrind: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. The first two sound very similar, which can be confusing. For simplicity sake, let’s clarify. Authoritarian parenting is basically what most people would call “strict”. Authoritative is the balance between strict and permissive parenting. That covers three, but I mentioned four above. The fourth is not really a style at all. Neglectful parenting is when a parent fails to provide for the child’s basic needs. (Procreating does not make one a parent in this sense.)

To define these four styles, Baumrind laid them out on a grid with four quadrants. On one axis she measured demandingness. The other axis represented emotional responsiveness. Strict (authoritarian) parents are those she defined as being highly demanding and low in responsiveness to their kids. On the opposite end of the spectrum, permissive parents have low demands and are highly responsive. Authoritative parents are those who have high demands and expectations but are also high in emotional responsiveness. Neglectful parents tend to be indifferent to their children. They have low levels of demandingness as well as low responsiveness.

Parenting styles explained: what you need to know about giving your kids the best possible outcome.Which Parenting Style is Best?

Good parents come in many forms and every child is different. There is no one set recipe for parenting success. There are, however, studies that show certain general parenting styles that typically produce the best outcomes for kids. No matter your natural tendencies as a parent, there are some things you can do to help mold your child into a happy, responsible adult.

The strict (authoritarian) parenting style tends to result in children who are good at following rules. On the other hand, they may have lower self-esteem, lower “emotional IQ” and be less happy. Children of permissive parents tend to have a problem with authority. They also rank lower in happiness and may lack self-control. The un-involved or neglectful parenting style leads to the worst outcomes for children.

Authoritative parenting is the approach that seems to strike the right balance for healthy child outcomes. High standards and clear boundaries result in confident kids. The high level of responsiveness from their parents also teaches emotional intelligence.

How to Employ an Authoritative Parenting Style

We tend to learn our parenting style from our own parents. For many people, they parent their children the way they were parented. For others, their parents set the example of the type of mom or dad they do not want to be. Either way, many of us have natural tendencies we only become aware of once we have children.

I always thought I’d be slightly on the strict side of authoritative. However, my natural tendency most of the time is to be very empathetic with my daughter. To avoid slipping into permissive parenting mode, I am careful to set clear boundaries. I am still working on this with our bedtime routine. As a working mom, I don’t have as much time as I’d like in the evening with my baby. When she asks for one more book or to sing another song, it is hard to say no because I value this one on one time with her. I know it is important for her to have a consistent routine and plenty of sleep, so I need to be confident in drawing the line.

For strict parents, it may help to remember what it felt like to be a child. There is nothing wrong with setting appropriate boundaries. However when the child asks why, you might consider explaining the reason for your rule. If your natural reaction is “Because I said so!”, remember that children are naturally curious. They want to understand the world around them. It may be convenient if they respect your authority now, but consider the type of adult you want them to be. Should they blindly follow authority figures, or should they learn to identify right and wrong for themselves? Childhood is an emotional roller coaster and you can help them navigate it.

For more ideas on how to strike the right balance, I recommend this Forbes article on parenting behaviors that can stifle your child’s leadership potential.


What is your parenting style? Are you working to improve in a particular way? Leave a comment to let me know!



  1. Kristie of ceoMom

    As much as I’d like to be authoritative, I’m permissive lol. And my husband is strict. Maybe we equal out to be authoritative collectively? But we are both working to be the best parents. Which is important.

    1. Tarsha

      Absolutely! It is a similar dynamic in my house. I think you can tailor your natural tendencies to let your kids know there are boundaries and that you love and support them. At the end of the day, we’re all human and perfection is not realistic. Being self aware is key. Anyone who is working to be a great parent is going to do a great job. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Lynda D. Mallory

    I’m an authoritative parent and we also do have fun. 🙂 Our schedules can get so crazy and I have to remain organized especially as a single parent. There are days where I let go. For instance, the kids are supposed to be in bed but I do let them take their iPads to bed sometimes since they are good in school, etc., I let up a bit.

    1. Tarsha Post author

      It’s all about finding the right balance for your family! You’ll know when your kids need clearer boundaries and when they are ready for additional independence.

    1. Tarsha Post author

      They sure are! Every stage has its challenges. My toddler is challenging me with sleep routines right now. Separation anxiety is another tough one for me at this stage.

  3. Harry Mullin

    I just discovered this amazing site – thanks Tarsha for posting to OCON 2017 or I might not have found it!

    Looks like a wealth of information here and I’ve just begun to explore. In case it hasn’t been found, I can recommend two other sources which provide alternatives to the authoritative/permissive conundrum. As is often the case with such apparent dichotomies, there may be alternative approaches.

    Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Dr Thomas Gordon is very clear and helpful.

    Secondly, Marshall Rosenberg, a long time psychologist, developed what he calls Non-Violent Communication (NVC) . His book with the same name is very good. I particularly like his CD “Nonviolent Communication: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values”. He is a master story teller and YouTubes abound.

    1. Tarsha Post author

      Thanks so much, Harry! I appreciate you visiting the blog and sharing additional resources. I’ve bookmarked your suggestions and will explore them further.


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